For a long time the Proteas were the envy of most other international cricket teams when it came to possessing quality all-rounders, which ensured they had plenty of depth when it came to their lower order.
Back then, having someone of the quality of Jacques Kallis in their line-up was always going to make the national selectors’ job that much easier as you could play an extra batsman or bowler. But it wasn’t just Kallis. There was Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Andrew Hall, Nicky Boje, Albie Morkel … the list goes on. All-rounders that were not only decent bowlers, but also clean strikers of the ball.
It feels like a lifetime ago, but I remember covering a one-day international in Port Elizabeth when Stephen Fleming was still the skipper of the Black Caps. Right up until the final few overs it looked as though the Kiwis would walk away victors before Pollock and Justin Kemp played wonderful cameos down the order, producing some brutal power-hitting to record an unlikely win.
I will never forget Fleming’s words in the post-match interview. “It doesn’t matter who’s at the crease when we’re playing South Africa. They always manage to produce a player that can win the game for them at the death.”
Fast forward 14-odd years and the Proteas are certainly not blessed with a powerful lower order. With less than three months until the start of the World Cup, South Africa are desperately trying to find someone that can contribute with both bat and ball.
For a while now, the balance of the team has not been right. While we are blessed with a potent bowling attack, it also means the lower order is weak.
Against Sri Lanka in Centurion this week, the Proteas were severely exposed as they lost their last six wickets for just 31 runs after heading for a big total. It’s not the first time the bowlers had to save the Proteas’ blushes with the ball in hand in defence of an average total. And it probably won’t be the last.
Perhaps it’s time to give up on looking for this “dream” all-rounder. Rather opt for a stronger batsman, say JP Duminy or Aiden Markram, that can bowl you three to five overs without conceding too many. And back yourself to chase down any total.
If you look at other international teams, the norm is that they bat deep. England, the West Indies, Australia, India and even New Zealand certainly do.
A change in approach is needed, and needed quickly. Otherwise we are in for a disappointing 2019.